choppy waters

The European Commission has recently requested further information1 from World Sailing over its choice to select a single manufacturer for its one-design sailing craft. This is the preliminary step in an EU antitrust investigation. This follows news2 that Devoti Sailing, an Italian manufacturer of sailing craft, had obtained a legal opinion stating that World Sailing was in contravention of EU competition law. Initially the matter was referred to the Italian Competition authorities, but due to the pan-EU impact of the investigation the Commission has now taken over.

This article explains the background to the investigation, the legal framework, and gives the authors’ views on the arguments that are likely to be raised.


World Sailing is alleged to have adopted practices that prohibit competition between suppliers and makers of various Olympic class boats. Historically, the body which governed Olympic sailing would specify a class of boat to be used for each individual Olympic event, and manufacturers and competitors would have to build and use boats which complied with strict technical guidelines. However, in recent times, World Sailing has moved towards a model whereby a single manufacturer of a very specific boat is chosen for each event. Competitors must enter the event in that specific class of boat. Whilst other manufacturers could build that same boat, they would need a licence from the original manufacturer to do so, as the original manufacturer owns the intellectual and industrial property rights in the design and manufacture of that boat. It is contended that the manufacturers concerned have not been licensing their rights on commercially reasonable terms.3

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